Student Well-Being

As They Fled Fire, Teachers Feared They Would Die in Cars With Their Students

By Sasha Jones — November 12, 2018 2 min read
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As a raging fire closed in on their school, teachers and bus drivers helped dozens of students and staff from Paradise Unified School District escape to evacuation centers last week in an impromptu caravan of school buses and cars.

The school staff quickly realized that they would have to evacuate the school when they heard propane tanks exploding as the fire and heat drew closer. It took some evacuees up to four hours to drive to safety from flames and smoke in what would otherwise would have been a 20-minute commute, according the the Associated Press.

“There were trees burning on the side of the road. The smoke was so thick you couldn’t see,” Marc Kessler, a science teacher at a Paradise Intermediate School, told the AP on Friday. “We had very traumatized teachers who were certain they were going to die in the car with their students.”

"[A sheriff’s deputy] said seat belt laws don’t apply, and he said stuff as many kids as you can in the cars,” Kessler said.

Overall, the district was able to reunite 125 students with their families.

Schools in Los Angeles and Ventura counties also closed on Friday, because of proximity to fires burning in Southern California and poor air quality because of the smoke.

Officials in Butte County, where much of the town of Paradise has been burned to the ground, decided to close all schools until at least after Thanksgiving Break.

“Time is needed to help understand the extent of loss and disruption in our county and to develop ways to resume safely providing services to our schools and students,” Butte County Superintendent Tim Taylor said in a statement.

As of Monday morning, the so-called “Camp Fire” in Butte County has burned 113,000 acres and is 25 percent contained, according to Cal Fire. That fire has killed 29 people and destroyed over 6,400 homes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photos from top to bottom:

The burned remains of the Paradise Elementary school is seen on Nov. 9, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. Blocks and blocks of homes and businesses in the Northern California town have been destroyed by a wildfire. Parts of the town of Paradise were still on fire on Friday. --Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Evacuees from a wildfire rest on cots and blankets supplied by the Red Cross in the gymnasium at Taft Charter High School in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles on Nov. 9, 2018. --Richard Vogel/AP

King Bass, 6, left, sits and watches the Holy Fire burn from on top of his parents’ car as his sister Princess, 5, rests her head on his shoulder on Aug. 9, 2018 in Lake Elsinore, Calif. More than a thousand firefighters battled to keep a raging Southern California forest fire from reaching foothill neighborhoods Friday before the expected return of blustery winds that drove the flames to new ferocity a day earlier. --Patrick Record/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.